Most moviegoers seeking goofy fun this weekend will most likely flock to Universal Pictures’ teen sex comedy Superbad, but I encourage you to also check out THINKFilm’s The Ten, an absurd collection of ten stories, one of which is animated by Augenblick Studios, best known for its raunchy contributions to MTV2’s cult hit, Wonder Showzen. The Ten is currently playing in limited release in the U.S. and is well worth the trip to the nearest art house.
The Ten is co-written and directed by the talented David Wain, director of Wet, Hot American Summer and one third of the comedy troupe Stella, which had a brilliant, but short-lived, series on Comedy Central last year. Wain’s Stella cohorts, Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter, appear briefly in the film as part of an ensemble cast that includes Paul Rudd, Jessica Alba, Winona Ryder, Famke Janssen, Liev Schreiber, Adam Brody, Gretchen Mol, Rob Corddry, Oliver Platt and Ron Silver. Also making appearances are a number of former members of comedy collective The State, including Ken Marino, who co-wrote the film with Wain.
Following his role in the hit summer comedy Knocked Up, Paul Rudd introduces each of The Ten‘s silly, pseudo morality tales, which are based on the Ten Commandments. About half way through, we get ‘Thou shall not bear false witness,’ which is illustrated by the story of an animated Rhino (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin from Dr. Katz and Home Movies fame) who wins friends and influences people by making up lies about others. Like the boy who cried wolf, he soon finds that all the animals soon disbelieve every word he says, even as he warns them of impending doom.
The animation by Augenblick Studios is a colorful and cheery mix of Flash, PhotoShop and After Effects that harkens back to the early days of animation as it depicts gruesome cartoon violence and animal fornication. Aaron Augenblick served as animation director and character designer, leading a team of six artists that spent about four months creating the sequence basically as a labor of love.
Wain, who wanted to tackle a lot of different genres in the movie, contacted Augenblick because he was a fan of the work the studio did on Wonder Showzen and asked if it was even possible given the film’s small budget. ‘I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, let’s do it!” Augenblick tells us. ‘I was so excited because I was also a big fan of Wet, Hot American Summer, and it was the same people working on it. Other than my own festival projects, I haven’t gotten to do 35mm, so I was just really excited to do something in a film.’
‘Right from the beginning, David Wain and Ken Marino were referencing old Fleischer cartoons, which I think is one of the things that they were sort of attracted to in our stuff,’ Augenblick continues. ‘We do stuff that’s pretty appreciative of ’30s-era cartoons. They wanted a multitude of characters all sort of bouncing along and dancing and that kind of stuff. Fleischer cartoons have always been my favorites, so my approach was to try to do it in a style that was evocative of Betty Boop and Popeye, without trying to make it look old. I didn’t want to try and do some faux retro piece like in [our web series] Golden Age, as if it were an old cartoon. I wanted to do it in a style that was evocative of those cartoons, but still really vibrant with bright colors, dirty humor and disturbing, gross visuals. The approach was to imagine what Fleischer Studios would do if they were around today and they were animating an all-animal orgy.’
Augenblick tells us that working on The Ten was probably the most fun he and his crew have had to date, though it was a lot of hard work making the piece look really traditional. ‘Even though we drew it in Flash, every single frame is hand-drawn, and we did all traditional in-betweening,’ he notes. ‘We tried not to cheat as much as possible by staying away from doing computer moves and stuff like that. It was definitely a hand-drawn, labor-intensive piece. We knew that the movie was going to be so good that we just kind of went all-out on it.’
After all that work, Augenblick says he’s a bit disappointed that the animation hasn’t been showing up in any of the film’s marketing efforts. ‘One of the things the promotional team decided was that they’re trying to keep the animation almost like a secret,’ he says. ‘They kind of want people to be surprised when it comes on, so they’re trying not to put it in most of the ads. We’re sort of like this unfortunate, hidden secret in the movie.’
Augenblick Studios is currently working on a new series titled Superjail for Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. The team is starting production this month on ten episodes of the show, which Augenblick says is about a jail that operates as if it were run by Willy Wonka. ‘It’s a hyper-violent, psychedelic, really cartoony jail and there’s basically non-stop action from beginning to end,’ he explains. ‘We’re definitely trying to push doing a really, really fully animated show on TV. It’s pretty wild. We’re writing the scripts right now and it’s going to be great!’
You can watch a clip from Superjail and learn more about Augenblick Studios at www.augenblickstudios.com. The official site for The Ten can be found at www.thetenmovie.com.